Tuesday, November 30, 2010

O frabjous day!

Callooh! Callay! I chortle in my joy! Because blizzard has seen fit to respond to my most recent post with a wondrous statement: http://www.wowhead.com/blog=175386/experience-reduced-for-dungeon-quests! Experience is being reduced for dungeon quests! Success! Triumph! Happiness for all!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

An Old Solution is a New Issue

Leveling some characters on a RPPvP realm (I normally play on a normal) in the post-cataclysm has given me an interesting yet vaguely annoying feeling - I level too fast. Way too fast. I mean, I should be progressing to the next zone when I've barely completed the first quest hub. While I am not required to move to the next zone, it does mean that questing provides no challenge whatsoever, which is much less fun for me. And I was on a new server, so no twinking, and no heirlooms! "Egads!" You must be saying. "Where could we have gone so wrong?" There are 3 simple reasons: Random Dungeons, Past Habits, and Tons of Content.

Random Dungeons
In the old days zones were structured as follows: Intro quest(s), Exclamation Point Explosions, then Dungeons. The Intro quests were just to give brief exposition; they could be as brief as a one-quest story bit from Hemet Nesingwary in STV, or as intricate as a couple quest chain. the Exclamation Point Explosion (which has all but disappeared in the Wrath/Cata world) was when your minimap would be flooded with fifty quests and you'd refer to Wowwiki or your leveling guide, or your pal who just leveled the wrong way. Dungeons could be instanced or microdungeons, like Jintha'Alor, and you'd have a smattering of quests that let you go into the dungeon and beat up some trolls or naga or what have you. It was not this organized, but it was what was behind the design.

In BC, they refined their ways to the form above. It worked well; at normal speed of leveling, you would get through every quest and every dungeon and be very prepared for the next zone. Then... well, then came XP nerfs (which I won't write about, because they should be taken into consideration when Cata was designed) and wrath. Oh, I should note - you could intentionally make the game easier by doing more lower level quests, or harder by doing fewer harder zones. 

Then came random dungeons. Dungeon quests are now offered in instances (so they are removed from the lore of zones), making people think of them more as separate bits of 30-minute content. XP-ridden content. You can level a good number of times without actually doing quests and not getting bored of dungeons. With a new dungeon ever couple levels, it's quite profitable to at least run them a few times and out-level what the zone thinks you should be. 

Past Habits
Face it - Wow had 11.5 million players BEFORE Cata. even if a solid million of players now come with Cata, it's ridiculous to assume that the majority will not have played the game before. That means people leveling will be looking at content with experience; this means people will be smarter. Running dungeons when they're bored, killing a few extra mobs for a bit more xp, making sure your characters are well equipped, not to mention bag space, twinking, and heirlooms. Especially not the heirlooms. People will be smarter, and out-gear and level content faster.

A Bloody Ton of Content
Not a whole lot to say here. There's a bloody ton of content, and not only is there lots, but it's good content. Compelling. And fun. More zones = more XP = more outstripping of higher zones.

Why is this a bad thing? Well, if I want to play the game - and make it a challenge - I have to a) skip fun content or b) not finish any content. Both suck. Or, I could cap my XP. Which is no fun, because I still want to develop my character. Solutions? Maybe a Difficulty slider, or an XP slider, or something? Please? Because your game is fun, Blizz, and I want to play it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sheldras Moontree and his Fair Warning

Sheldras Moontree was the head druid trainer (or so it looked like) in The Park of Stormwind. When Deathwing took a little vengeance upon the trees and happy courtyards, he managed to escape with a few others out to the docks, where he currently resides. When you approach him on a druid, he says an oddly forecasting statement:

"There will be a time soon where the call of the Emerald Dream will take hold in you. You will hibernate for many years and walk amongst the purest of forms. It is there and then that your ultimate training will take place."

Well. What does that mean? First off, Stormrage was only a setback. Obviously we are going to the Emerald Dream at some point, but in no way can it be as peaceful as our Lunar Arborist suggests - because there is no such thing as class-specific content any more, remember?

What I think is going to happen is that some time before the expansion is launched but in a world event, there will be a little class specific content. Druids will be called together and will enter the Emerald Dream. But all will not be as was hoped - and Old God, or one of their puppets, resurfaces there and the entire fight begins. The druids have to open a massive portal to Moonglade (all sorts of potential here), where a huge staging ground is built and (just like in Ulduar) the horde and the alliance aren't teaming up this time.

So the expansion Starts - using a heavy amount of phased content - when the invasion of the emerald nightmare/dream begins. Unlike Outland, where bases and outposts are already made (Honor Hold must've taken months to build), this one's entirely fresh - any quest hub will be the barest of places and entirely phased. Tacking in monthly world events that are seemingly in the works, this hypothetical expansion could be quite epic indeed.

Monday, November 15, 2010

An Awesome Idea that Never Will Exist

Blizzard implements an item, given through a ridiculously long (perhaps repeatable) quest chain which is profession specific, which acts as an enchantment to any item of rare quality or lower. When it is applied, it turns said item into Bind on Account, scaling based upon your character's level. Totally, totally wicked awesome. Never, ever implementable. Le sigh.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Wulfrix on the evolution of rotation complexity

As a preface to this post, it would be widely advisable to go read This Post over on WoWInsider. Essentially, it's a peek into Blizzard's current design focus, and how the game has adapted from a 'Sink or Swim' talent speccing situation to a 'Dog-paddle or Butterfly'. While talents have previously blatantly disregarded the community that is built up around the game, now they incorporate this huge community fanbase into existing design decisions. Interesting stuff, but for one simple issue, which Eyeball2452 correctly points out.

To take a look at this, let's bring in Billo, the brother of Billy from wowcrendor's 'How to Win' series.

Hello Billo! I see you've decided to try to spec your talents.
"Yea! And there's a whole lot of choices to pick! Ooh, I want this one! And this one!"
Hold on, Billo. You need to think hard about what talents you pick. First off, what blogs do you read?
"What's a blog?"
-cuts to MSPaint rendition of EJ-
A 'Blog' is a place where someone who has played the game far more than you ever will tells you how to play it and what to do. And if you don't, people will assume you are terrible, and nobody will ever group with yo. Especially in harder content.
"But I want to play my own way how it suits me!"
You can't, Billo.
"This place sucks! I want to go hang out with Gamon! And the Go guy!"
Shut up, Billo.
 -Crazy Music and Credits-

The issue is that if Billo here never heard from us what EJ was, or read a blog, or heard about WoWInsider, they would never have heard about this 'higher' grade of talent speccing that is necessary for all raiding. Sure, it's difficult now to think 'Oh, who doesn't know what WoWInsider is?', but it took me a solid 3 years of playing WoW to learn about what theorycrafting was (I joined in 2004), and I have seen people play - and raid - in Wrath with less knowledge than what I had in my first UBRS run. Which consisted of Leeroy Jenkins, a Dungeon Companion, and Allakhazam

Blizzard needs to actively support the community in ways it just isn't doing. Knowledge accessible to average players consists of the forums... which would be a horrible first place to learn things... and a couple of well-hidden links on their main page. Adding large featured pages with links to major websites (EJ, WoWInsider, Wowhead, even Graylo and more specific blogs) on the website is a simple way to start, but there is a much more elegant solution.

What is the number one place that people who play WoW look for information? If you answered the GAME ITSELF, you'd be correct. And would also posses common sense. Why in the WORLD does the library in SW not contain Phaela's dissertation on Threat Management? Or a tome of BRK Lore? Perhaps the book seller nobody actually goes to in Undercity might hold some speculative lore from Shades of Gray? Billy and Blind could appear on the big screen in Ironforge! Cranius and Shigihara would perform at the World's End Tavern! The possibilities are ENDLESS, people! Just let the community into the world in a way more than casual references, so that the community can teach the world. Talents are just a stepping stone, people. But without the stepping stone, this brave new philosophy is an adaptation that will split millions. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Solokin: ZG Addendum

Hey all, keeping a post schedule is harder than it seems. I can only imagine the horrors it must be to try to keep to, say, a webcomic posting schedule! Blogging makes me pity such persons all the more. Also, the deadly blog-dance Blogger and I are having is drawing to a more explosive tap-dance number, where Blogger has a load of new cool features and then decides to change the styles of all of my posts. Anyways.

I imagine, as you read the previous Solokin, you skipped past all the annoying bits and wanted to get to the meat of the post: How to beat the two Mount-Bosses, Mandokir and Thekal. Oh, you might say, what an ingenious yet simple to understand way to defeat the Bloodlord! You must have a similar means of vanquishing our tiger-taming friend! Yet when you scrolled down a paragraph or two, you were left disappointed and deflated in spirit. Be deflated no longer! For I have worked out an ingenious yet simultaneously brilliant means of defeating Thekal, without the bug I mentioned in the previous post!

Your first challenge is going to be clearing the road (past the edge of madness, Bloodlord, Bat-lady and all the way back to the entrance) of ALL patrols and mobs. Not too difficult, as you probably did it on the way here, but if one of the big trolls knocks you into the water mid-fight, things are going to get far too interesting. The background data is this: If you spam attack Thekal's minions and Thekal and such as you are fleeing out of the room, usually, they will disregard the tether that keeps them linked to Thekal's den (which as far as I know is NOT a bug, or at least a non-important one because it doesn't despawn or mechanically alter anything). Thekal also has a much, much faster run speed than either of her priests. Lastly, the fight ends when you kill Thekal, even if his two co-priests are up; but he is healed to full when he gets too low by one of his priests, Lor'kahn, if she is in range.

The main idea is you want to kite the whole squad of em back to the instance, while insect swarming Thekal and swarming yourself. The priestess cohort, Lor'khan, needs to be kept out of range of Thekal. I found a tactic most effective was summoning trees early on and sticking them on her, so they would get aggro and Zath might be delayed a good distance behind, Then, popping in and out of travel form/cat form + dash when it's up/periodic self-heals and reapplication of insect swarm and perhaps a random spin-cast of a instant starsurge, thekal should die (the first time) far away from both priests. Kill him in is tiger-mode phase, a simple TanknSpank, for instant profit. Using this method, I got my Zulian Tiger on the first try!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

An Ode to a Daniel Serbicki

I nearly forgot! When I began this blog, I promised that I would write an ode to the first person to comment here. So, in such accordance, here is my 'Ode to Daniel Serbicki':

O Daniel, the wisest of all wond'rous ones, 
who notes the anachronisms of a Psychic Turban, 
may you feel beneath the warmth of the plaintive suns,
and ne'er feel the force of the Crab's hammer of ban. 
Picture a ninja upon a space station of gold
with none but his trusted aids, a raptor and a tornado, 
and can raze the world with a single Knaakian spell.
Who counts among his ranks Saurfang the old,
Norris, Crowley. Try to imagine this, then, so
that you might see the man who wants to be Daniel.

Monday, October 25, 2010

New Basic Template!

Hey, as you may notice, I changed the site design, from a pretty awful looking premade thing, to a less awful premade thing. Whoop-de-do! I may, at some point, try and write up a personalized theme for this blog, if I ever get inspired to do so.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Solokin: Zul'Gurub

Hey all, hope you are having/had a good time at Blizzcon (if you could go, unlike I). I, instead of frolicking around as elves and spacegoats with like-minded individuals, set down to the hard work of grinding Zandalar rep before it gets turned into a Feat of Strength in Cataclysm. And, as you may be well aware, one of the prime pieces of grinding Zandalar reputation is doing the dungeon, Zul'gurub, which is also getting removed in Cataclysm. You may be even more less aware that I am a moonkin, and perhaps even the least aware that I didn't want to group with people, so I'm doing it solo. So... yep. That's the title.

Zul'Gurub: The Background

ZG, as it is abbreviated, was a raid instance, added in patch 1.7. The first raid that was neither 40-man nor world, it paved the path into the 10 and 25 man raids we know today. The lore behind it follows the ancient troll empire called the Gurubashi, who were in great desperation after the Sundering. In order to help with their troubles, a group of Gurubashi Priests called the Atal'ai enlisted the aid of one Blood God Hakkar (who has nothing to do with a Knaakian Houndmaster) to help them. But, as blood gods are prone to do, he wanted a load of sacrifices which the trolls weren't too keen on. They sent in those priests to try to kill Hakkar, but they got enslaved, and eventually everyone who wasn't enslaved fled. Now, the Zandalar tribe is recruiting adventurers to go destroy Hakkar, in an attempt to rid the trolls of him once and for all.

The raid is on a 3-day lockout timer and is not reset as per the weekly schedule. It has 5 priest-bosses which need to be destroyed before Hakkar if you wish him not to gain special abilities. For soloing purposes, just kill the priests then him. Also, there are 4 optional bosses per lockout, one requiring fishing and a questline done (Gahz'ranka).

Picture from Wowwiki's DarkRyder


The entire raid took me about 2 and a half hours to complete, but that was with two optional bosses, learning the strategies, and killing extra trash for rep. After a couple of tries, I'd imagine I can speed it up to under an hour. I should mention to solo this, you need to be in a raid - I logged on to a second account, invited them, and then disconnected off of that account. If you have a friend who isn't questing, that's another alternative.

A couple of brief notes: Starfall is handy, but be careful not to pull too many groups. Thorns is now deadly, so keep it in your rotation. Typhoon with daze can be a godsend, and if you're alliance, use and over-use that shadowmeld. 1-stack lifeblooms were, I found, the most effective healing technique, with a rejuvination on top of that if you need a bit more punch till the bloom comes around. Anything requiring more than that, and you're better off killing the damage-doers.

First, you are met with a bit of trash in the path going forward. They're pretty easy to kill, but the Axethrowers can get you into trouble if they're left alive for too long - they have a nasty 10-second or so channeled stun. Dotting them up is a simple, but effective, way of removing this threat. Barkskin + Hurricane + Typhoon your way to the first fork, where you'll take a right to the first boss: 1, High Priestess Jeklik (Wowhead). She's a pretty simple tank and spank, but she's a little hard to find if you don't know where you're looking - she's standing on the wall where you'll be looking as you come in. "/tar High" if you're really having trouble.

After her comes 2, High Priest Venoxis (WH). Just run back down the road to the fork, and go straight until you hit the room filled with snakes. clear the snakes and burn him down. Simple simple tank+spank.

Next is 3, High Priestess Mar'li (WH), the Spider boss. Go out of the snake room, follow the main road, and take the next right. Take a right at the next fork and from there follow the cobwebs and skitterers. Oh, and don't use Starfall in this room. Just... don't. She's now much of a challenge, but it makes sense to kill her adds so they don't get big, which they do if they're left alive. She'll turn into a nerubian at the end, which can be pretty shocking if you're zoomed way in. Yea, that's you, Myebika.

Once the spiders are put to an end, you have the option of doing an extra boss - 7, Bloodlord Mandokir (WH). He has a chance of dropping a mount, so it's usually worth it. Take the alternate fork from where you went following the spiders, and take a left in the room filled with trolls. You don't need to kill them, but they drop coins and other rep-things that, if you can't use, someone on your server can (so stick those on the AH!). Clear the floor, and get ready for 2 minutes of travel form. The trick to him is that after 2 minutes, he hits for very little damage, making the fight a breeze. But before then, you have a high danger of dying if you try to just take it. The trick is to aggro him, set your trees and dots on him, then kite him around in travel form for two minutes while periodically breaking form to heal yourself. It can take a while to get used to, but once you do, it's a snap. After that, it's a DPS race, so blow up his face with all you've got.

A note here - there are some big trolls that run around and aren't to tough, 'cept they have a brutal knockback. Just keep it in mind when you're fighting - don't get knocked into the lake!)Next comes another optional event, 10, The Edge of Madness (WH, 2, 3, 4). This one's just bloody annoying - first off, you can't pull too many of the trash imps at a time, because they spawn portals that summon trough voidwalkers that (if you have too many) can overwhelm you or, you need to kite. Second, the bosses are summoned out of four, which are determined by the day you summon them on. Lastly, you need a now-never made item to summon them (oh, by the way, alchemists can click on the tablet on the wall to learn how to make said item). So... yeah. Not really worth it. They are, however, required if you want to make the ZG Trinkets.

This is followed by another brutal one - 4, High Priest Thekal (WH). I have not found a successful way to kill this boss, as a moonkin, without the now infamous bug. I'm not going to relate it here, but I'm sure you can find it if you look hard enough (it was on wowhead, might have been removed). Otherwise, you'll need to kill the two tigers (probably by Thorns) and simultaneously dps down the two adds, making sure they die at the same time. If you can do that without dying, I'm super impressed, and then you'll need to kill Thekal himself (who, once this has been done, is pretty easy). It's the high damage output that really gets you here, so +Defence food, pvp gear, maybe some Indestructible potions even. Comment below if you find a good strat.

EDIT: A strat has been found! See here for more info.

Next is another optional (Fishing!) boss by the name of 9, Gahz'ranka (WH). He is fairly simple, in that if you do enough damage to him before he kills you, he dies. I didn't attempt him because I forgot my Mudskunk Lure, which must be purchased from Nat Pagle in Dustwallow Marsh after completing a quest, started in ZG, which requires you to go to Nat and return his... measuring tape. You actually only need level 1 fishing to do this quest. To summon him, fish up 5 Zulian Mudskunks from pools nearby Gahz'ranka, and then combine them using the Mudskunk lure you purchased. Use it at Pagle's Pointe (9) and dps him down. Fishing him up also gets you an achievement (Deadliest Catch) which will become a FoS in Cataclysm. (Side note - he drops Tome of Polymorph: Turtle, a cool polymorph for mages, but this will NOT be removed in Cataclysm, and will be available through alternate means. Sorry, all you who were hording them.)

Next, run up the ramp from Pagle's and go down the main road on the other side of the lake until you see the big building guarded by panthers. Run/fight your way to the bottom, and you're at 5, High Priestess Arlokk (WH), a bit of a joke compared to the previous bosses. The one issue I found with her is that she likes to bug out. Often. So dps her down quickly, and there's a chance her panthers might not even attack you, so a few hundred panthers might jump you at the end. Have your typhoon key ready.

Next is the last optional boss, 8, Jin'do the Hexxer (WH). If you use trees here, he tends to mind control you and make you attack them. Other than that, I found fighting him on top of the dancing skeletons is a good idea, because then when he teleports you it doesn't require extraneous movement or potential buggery. Hurricane + barkskin or just thorns the skellies, and blow the Hexxer to bits. Oh, and little bit of annoyance can happen here if he decides to mind control you near the end. If he dies while a mind control totem is still controlling you, you will stay that way for 4 minutes until it despawns. Yep. Fun times.

Now, the main event. 6, Hakkar (WH), resides at the top of the temple in the center. Fight your way to the top (there's a couple of large trash packs, so don't be afraid to wait for cooldowns), and it's nice to face him on an open platform. He hits a little harder than the other bosses, but it's not much to be scared of. A rejuv or a lifebloom here or there will cover it.

And once he's dead, you're a new Hero of this Realm. Congrats on your new soon-to-be-Feat of Strength, Zul'Gurub.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Brief History of Phasing

Hey all, I'm back and better than ever! Oh, and welcome to all of you that found this site through WoW.com, it's good to have you here. A few bits of info before I get to the meat of the post:
First, this is now my dedicated WoW blog. Tangential postings will be limited.
Second, I think I'm going to keep to a posting schedule (gasp!) that will prompt further ramblings and helpful advice. So, you can check back here on Sundays and Wednesdays for posts which may intrigue the mind and inform the unknowing.
Third, my guild (finally) downed Arthas on Saturday! I must say, it's one of the coolest fights in all of Wrath, and it was triply awesome in that it was one of the last things on my checklist to do before Cataclysm! Anyways, on with the post.

Ah, Phasing. One of Wrath's biggest selling points - letting the world evolve in accordance to your actions, demand and create new challenges, and build an interactive story. One of the most hyped features by the fans, too - and yet, one that (in my opinion) fell all too short. Except perhaps on one account. But we'll get to that later.

What is phasing, anyway?

Phasing is, first and foremost, a shifting of your character from one 'phase' to another. Think of it as jumping sideways through time - something any quantum physicist can understand quite well. Essentially, you can see and interact with objects and players in your 'phase', and can't see or interact with things that are outside of it. It attempts to solve one of the greatest challenges in the making of any traditional MMO: player interaction with the world. By doing things, the world changes around you - if this were completely true, you would be left something like LOVE (not entirely feasible for a game like WoW) - but by using a structured approach it enhances player investment without an exorbitant amount of effort or re-designing things.

In the beginning...

In a couple of Blizzard podcasts, developers have noted that phasing began with a fun little quest implemented in patch 2.4 (Fury of the Sunwell/Isle of Quel'danas) called 'Intercepting the Mana Cells', which was the daily that initially opened up the portal to the Isle from Shattrath. The quest has you jump from one phase, where you can see mobs that have an item which lets you jump phases, to another, which has the objects in it but not the mobs. It was a neat idea, and made for an interesting daily (the first ten or twenty times). But 'phasing' as it is called began much earlier, with a quest I have written about by the name of 'You Are Rakh'likh, Demon', where, at one point in the chain, the questgiver (The Fallen Hero of the Horde) gins a new dialog option that allows you to summon a tauren who continues the chain. This early instance doesn't have the fancy triggers we know today, and relies on dialog trees to solve the issue of world-changing: clunky, but effective.

Dialog was lot the only way of escaping the staticness of WoW - another major way was using items as a trigger. Simple things like the Argent Dawn Commission 'phased' you into the loot phase where the argent dawn rep bits exist. It seems like a stretch, true - but when you extend this to look at things like the Spectral Essence of Caer Darrow, you can see half of phasing is present - you do a quest, getting an item thereby producing a trigger, and then can see new things and even access new vendors (a repair guy).

The phasing also existed in some more core ways: first, invisibility! It only shows you people that are invisible too, and effectively phases you 'out' of the rest of the world. Second, and most like the phasing we know today, is Death. When you die, you jump out of the 'Living' world of units and items and even abilities, into a 'Dead' world with units like the Kodo Spirits in Desolace or Gaeriyan in the Un'goro Linken quest chain. Whole quests had you jump between phases, including BRD's Shadowforge Key - this being the true birth of phasing. But there was only 1 of these 'true' phases, with dozens of half-phases, like the instanced Corrupted Ashbringer event. But the triggers for jumping phases were limited to these annoying events - instances, equipped items, death, and a painful dialog system.

Enter Wrath.

The Death Knight zone exemplifies Wrath phasing. It really is the shining point of Questing in general, but in this region it shines especially brightly. Units and items progress, it is true - but Blizz stepped it up a notch, providing phased units, items, speech, animations, events, skills, light masters, buildings, teleporters, events, ui (maps), group-events (like the Battle for the Undercity or the Fall of Zalazane), and much more. From being a cool on-death way of spicing up a fedex quest, to a new and interesting way of using consumables for Sunwell Dailies (or finding mobs in Shadowmoon Valley), it became a full-fledged zone development system.

And with Cataclysm introducing 'Terrain Phasing' - basically, not only units, structures and items changing, but the actual ground and foliage too - it only furthers the scope of possibility.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's not 'phasing' as a core mechanic that really developed much at all in Wrath, but the successful use of new triggers and new things effected (yes, I mean effected). It is interesting and exciting to see what they can do with all this new technology in Cataclysm and beyond - and, I mean, the Emerald Dream is the obvious next step.

(And I promise to update this with shiny pictures soon.)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Questes: Well, that about sums it up.

I finally completed my compendium of the most fabulous and endangered quests in all of WoW; so now I urge you to complete them, post-haste, before they are swept away. Below I have them listed in the order which I feel they are best completed, based upon precise calculations, balancing time and scope versus endangerment and epicness:

I'd be happy to explain my rationale if anyone has the will to wonder - but if not, just accept it as a universal truth and move along.

Questes: Only One May Rise

Alright, I know it's been a while (I have excuses abound, I promise!) but I figured, with Cataclysm looming, I figured it was about time to wrap up this bloody series. Also, I'm just starting this last quest chain and hope to finish it before Cataclysm, as it is one of the most epic quest chains everto have existed; and most certainly the most epic pre-BC. The Quest I refer to is, of course, The Scepter of the Shifting Sands.

The Scarab Gong, courtesy of Wowwiki.com
Who can do this?

First, you need to be level 60 or above - but only a level sixty full of ambition, and an even fuller friends list of 80's, will ever get this done.

Second, you'll need time, as portions of this quest can revolve around ten-hour grinds or multiple runs of weekly lockouts. You really only need to run every particular dungeon once, but it's a lengthy grind nonetheless.

Where do I begin?

The first quest of the arching chain begins with What Tomorrow Brings..., given by one Baristolth of the Shifting Sands in Cenarion Hold, Silithus.

How does this one work?

This questis NOT simple. It requires a boatload of different interlocking, interweaving, and generally crazy quest chains that are hard to follow. As usual, Wowwiki has a wonderful guide; looking at Hoddie's comments on Wowhead are quite helpful too.

Oh, and remember - vigilance is key. If you want to obtain, well, what you see in the section below, there is no way but to persist. Good luck!

And finally, what do I get?

Well, first off, if you were the first person on your server to complete the quest (or completed it within ten hours of said person) you would get the fantastic title 'Scarab Lord' and Feat of Strength, and the unique one-of-a-kind Legendary mount Black Qiraji Resonating Crystal, which has a unique history you can go read about on Wowwiki. Unfortunately, these are no longer attainable, so if you are reading this, tough luck.

Increases in the numbers...
At the very least, Neutral with the Brood of Nodzormu +4365 reputation.
+1000 rep with Gadgetzan
+1525 Reputation with the Cenarion Circle
And a smattering of XP to be made into golds. And some more golds.

Then, the epics themselves. First you'll get whatever you pick up in your BWL, Onyxia, MC, and quite probably AQ runs. You'll get the achievements for each of those, and then the achievement for the level 60 Onyxia feat of strength too, as an added bonus.

Then, in the chain, you are awarded...

First off, the repeatables for Brood of Nozdormu rep give you Proxies of Nozdormu, which help alleviate some of the grind by allowing you to grant other players the ability to get stuff for you to turn in.

You get the choice between a Drake Tooth Necklace, a caster dps neck with Nature resist, and Drudge Boots, leather melee feet with nature resist too.

You get a choice between the Amulet of Shadow Shielding, a Stam/spirit shadow protection neck, and Onyx Embedded Leggings, shammy mail pants with some shadow resist too.

You get 3 Major Rejuvination Potions. Whoop-de-doo!

You get the one-of-a-kind, epic recipe (which is still highly coveted to this day) Dirge's Kickin' Chimaerok Chops, which is BoE if you want to sell it for a profitable sum to recipe collectors. You also get 20 of said chops, which were the best food around back in the day.

You also get the super awesome silence-limiting Gnomish Turban of Psychic Might, a cloth caster head.

You get to choose between the Band of Icy Depths, a underwater breathing ring, and Darkwater Robes, a Fire Resisting cloth chest.

You get The Scepter of Shifting Sands, a now-useless white BoE which was used to bang the gong back at the release in order to get the title and the mount, but still a cool keepsake.

Lastly you get your pick from four weapons: The Fang of Korialstrasz, a caster dps dagger; Shadowsong's Sorrow, a melee dps dagger; Runesword of the Red, a caster dps sword; and Ravencrest's Legacy, a tanking mainhand.

What did I just do?

You just completed the pinnacle of WoW Vanilla questing. You saw some of lore's most major characters come into play; you fought your way through multiple vanilla raids and world raids, events and grinds, to obtain the scepter of the shifting sands. And, if it is any indication from the cataclysm beta, you will be one of the last to do so, as in the Beta right now, the quest has been removed. Now is the time to strike, now is the time to take action and complete what may be the most grand, time intensive, satisfying and exclusive of questing accomplishments in all of the World of Warcraft!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Questes : The Lady's Necklace

Look at that, twice in two days! I'm on a roll. Also, this is the second-to-last one of Questes, so let's make it count with the flat out coolest piece of audio work in the game.

Who can do this?

This is a horde-specific questline, but don't let it discourage you - it only requires level 15 to do, so you might as well level up some race/class combination you haven't done yet (easiest is BE or Undead, location-wise) and you can do both WC for The Glowing Shard and then this in one demonic, or even fel, swoop.

Where do I begin?

It can be annoying, or it can be easy. I've never had an issue with getting the item that starts the quests - The Lady's Necklace, dropped off of Fallen Rangers and Deatholme Acolytes at Windrunner Spire in SW Ghostlands. However, a select few have just very poor luck and end up farming for a while before it drops. It's just the luck of the RNG, but it's always dropped within 3 or 4 kills for me.

How does mine necklace?

Seriously? This is like the simplest quest in the history of simple quests. Just read the bloiting quest text. I'm not even linking to wowhead here, it's just that easy.

And now, the loot.

You guessed it! Loot.

First off, you get 100,000 rep with Tranquillien, and 250 with Undercity. Toss on a sprinkling of gold and xp, and it's not a bad quest in and of itself. After the completion event, you also get a book, if you talk to the nearby question-markless Ambassador Sunsorrow. More on this later.

That's it, though - there's not much here. Of course, as we know, the journey is the worthier part.

All credit to WoW.com this time.
So... What's the point?

If you've done it by now, you know the point. At the end of the quest chain... *SPOILERS*... Deathwing appears and blows up the Undercity! Haha... see, now, the people who haven't done it are now going to go and complete it before actually having it spoiled. What really happens is that Sylvanas and a few of her banshees sing an epic and stunning song named 'Lament of the Highborne', all in Thalassian. I doubt that something of this quality will disappear in Cataclysm, but it very well could disappear, at least in its current incarnation - as Undercity and the entirety of Northern Lordaeron is getting hit by the renovate-bat, who knows.

For those allies in the crowd who can't be bothered to level up a measly level 15, I mean, seriously, you could just make a death knight for A'Dal's sake, you can type
/script PlaySoundFile("Sound\\Music\\GlueScreenMusic\\BCCredits_Lament_of_the_Highborne.mp3")
into the text window to hear the song, or watch a video on youtube. There is, however, nothing quite like walking up to the throne room and seeing it live. This is one of the truely amazing artistic feats in WoW - and something not to be missed.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

It's simple.

Whew. Back again. It's been a busy couple of months, so it's nice to finally be able to type something up.

During that time, I had the delight of experiencing two unrelated yet simultaneously very very closely related endeavors - one, I watched the entire 3 seasons of Avatar, The Last Airbender (delightfully entertaining series) for the first time. Also, I listened to a large number of 3-minute protests - informing, convincing, and venting, all mixed together, in such a short period promotes very interesting topics and thoughts to be brought forth. One which struck me as particularly cool was protesting clapping directly after a performance - that brief, 2-second interlude between conclusion and applause is a sacred and necessary moment that must be always held dear. However, I am not here to talk about the importance of postconclusory peace - I am here to talk about racism.

One of these protest speeches was on the racism in the casting of 'The Last Airbender', the live-action movie based on the aforementioned television series. I had heard about the movie before, but had not watched the show nor had I heard about the controversy. It was only after watching the show and watching a few trailers that I really understood what was going on - and after all this, hearing the speech made the subject all the more interesting. (The same person that wrote the speech drew up the above poster.) I'll summarize the argument below.

Essentially, what it boils down to is this:

1: Every single character in Avatar is not white. The main characters are Asian and Inuit, and a select few are based off of other cultures. This was intended, as the creators of the show to create an entirely eastern-based fantasy world.
2: Every single actor that was cast was white. However, when enough people protested through letters and the internet, they responded by casting the villains as Asian, Middle-eastern, or Latino. Also, because Hollywood is traditionally anti-Asian American, there a huge numbers of Asian actors very willing to play the parts. It is not a matter of acting skill.
3: This sends a very wrong message for kids, at whom the T.V. series and Movie is aimed; the heroes are white, while the villains are of different races, leading to more intolerance and inacceptance.
4: The awful irony is that the show preaches acceptance, the writers for the show promoted acceptance, the T.V. series was voiced by Asian actors which led to more successful careers in a traditionally anti Asian-American Hollywood, while the movie - a trilogy that could quite possibly be very influential - is anything but.

So, the speech went on to say, what can you do about it? Boycott the movie. Do not show up, do not give them your money, show them that racism is not ok.

(Also, they cut Sokka's humor. WTF?)

Update: There's a site full of more information, if you're interested, at http://www.racebending.com/v3/.

Monday, April 5, 2010

P.R.I.D.E: Movie-Based Video Games

Now, there is no reason to RANT if you don't follow up on it, so I have begun the "Post-RANT Idealistically Determined Exposition", or PRIDE. Essentially, I will look back on my R.A.N.T. post and either take a more explanatory/realistic view on things, or one that is far more radical if I felt I was out of line.

Obviously, looking back now, the rant was not angry enough - I find I actually agree with most of what was said. However, a few footnotes on the post:

First, games like Star Trek Online or any one of hundreds of Star Wars video games jump to mind. They did successfully, so what does this person mean when they slanderize all movie based video games? I think a point of clarification needs to be made: Games based off of IP's, or Worlds, do not fall into that category. Star Wars games produced after a trilogy, or Lord of the Rings games produced not based upon the movie but based on the land of Middle Earth, do not fit the definition.

Perhaps that was the point of the whole thing. Perhaps we can escape the downward spiral of awful. We just need to stop making games based upon all the pieces of the movie - the milieu, the idea, the characters, and the events - but just pick one and build from that. The easiest is obviously the milieu, and if we are to break the spiral then this is the way to do it, because milieu is a constant in both Card's MICE anagram (which could very well apply to movies, with maybe an addition of a Visual category) and my SPAM. But after video game tie-ins are taken seriously, one could retell the events from another point of view, or experience the character's adventures before or after the timeline of the movie. There is a world of possibility out there - all we need is for someone to take it seriously.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

R.A.N.T.: Movie-Based Video Games

I have a bunch of spare time right now, so it seems about time to start another category of post. This column I will hereforth label as the "R.A.N.T." : Random Acronymized Nettled Text. Yes, I did just Google an acronym for 'angry' starting with n. So bite me.

We'll kick off this column with something that has really, really irked me. Like, alot. A great deal. This is the Movie-inspired video game. Looking at such classics as E.T., whose 4 million excess copies helped cause the video game crash of 1983 and the majority of which ended up buried under concrete in a New Mexican landfill; or Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie, holding one of the worst video game reviews on multiple gaming sites; or even such recent releases as James Cameron's Avatar: The Game, it is obvious that developers do not take these games seriously. If we follow the post 1983-crash trend of gaming, we note that when developers do not take games seriously, players do not take games seriously, and so now even if a really decent game was released under a movie title, nobody would care.

The reason people actually make these games, in what seemingly has been forever, is because you can sell a few games on the wave of hype that follows a successful movie. You can also produce a game before a movie, and use it as a form of advertising - this is risky, however, because usually nobody will buy the game until after. Gamers don't buy movie-based games, and the hype-skateboarders don't have the hype to poon onto. Therefore most... scratch that, ALL, are just rushed drivel.

Why am I ranting about this? Why should I care that this market is so idiotically dull, when it is so easily avoided? BECAUSE THERE IS SO MUCH POTENTIAL. I saw two different movies this last weekend. The one I just saw, literally a few hours ago, was 'How to Train Your Dragon'. Actually a very good movie. I'd recommend it - it's a high quality film, another reason that animation can now be seen as a 'true' movie, not a specific brand. Anyway, they made a game, it was crap like the rest with poor ripped-off fighting mechanics and weak yet highly-toted customization, and I despised them for it. Here they have an epic world, one with huge potential, yet they scrap it for a dead game. GG Activision. GG.

The second, Clash of the Titans, is just a flat-out awful movie. Do not see it. Seriously. However, it got me wondering what it would be like if someone did a movie based upon Ovid's Metamorphoses (basis for most modern Greek myth), or did a full 3D epic... literally... of the Odyssey. If someone took the visual style of a movie like that, did a God of War style action-adventure game with a fairly linear storyline but great game play, it could be a very fun game... and not only would it be fun, but the game would promote the movie and the movie would promote the game. It could be epic. To bad it will never, ever, happen.

Other things I hate about movie based video games: 99.99% of them are catered towards an audience under 12. Seriously. This is because they are more impressionable and much more capable of surfing the hype wave. That means those of us gamers that want to play on Pandora or Berk or wherever are SOL. Also, they are almost always placed exactly where they should not be. A successful video game will draw you into the world - not tell you the storyline of the movie set in the world the game should be about. Why in the world would you stage a game inside of a village that was just saved? Set it in a nearby village. A cut storyline - something the writers wanted to do, thought up doing, but then never got to implement.

A video game is a second chance for writers to tell a story they didn't get to - and a second chance to explain the world through another story. Not a chance to have you run through some muddied maze of puzzles between narrated bit of exposition that tell you about a story that doesn't matter, or a story that you already know.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

White Words on a Black Site

Three large cardboard boxes are, at the moment, sitting full of unread books. I intend to change this, whether by burning the boxes, throwing them around, or reading the books. Perhaps all three. However, in order to do such things, I will probably eventually read the majority of them anyway. I have about 25 critically acclaimed Fantasy/SF books now displaced onto a shelf, where I will begin to read them. As a way of making myself read them more/learn more from them, I'll post a short review/synopsis/etc. on the site about each one. Should be fun!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

There and There Again; The World Strikes Back!

New oratory today, folks! However, in addition, I will try to reduce rampant resurgences of blatantly boring banality by practicing perfect punctuation and accepting an alliterative air. Or not.

I am here to converse about a game. A free to play game, in fact, the type of which I have mentioned before. A familiar, famous, frequently-mentioned free to play game, one which brings to mind many marvelous mishaps. This game is known as Allods Online. I will attempt to describe to you the wonders of my first few levels there for you. See if you can spot my point before I've said it. It'll be like a game!
Yes, I do all my own stunts. If (stunts == screenshots).
Wellp, proto or otherwise, I logged on to a brave new world with such people in it. Not over-densely populated, but a good number, so competition - as well as companions - were always within reach. I was excited, too - this was a game that took things as we knew it and shook them up a little, improving here, sidestepping there, all with a very detailed and amazing art scheme that would assuredly last a long time. A community was slowly building up around it, with jokes about awful drop rates and overpowered classes already emerging. It was enthralling, to be a part of something so new and so large. But enough about the large-scale stuff.

It began with a densely packed tutorial with firm, regimented boundaries, designed to give a thorough knowledge of game mechanics in their entirety to the player. It was successful, too - by the time I walked out of the bounded area, I understood what I needed to know to begin in the first zone. Following a number of grindy quests involving either killing mobs, getting drops, or using items, was another camp, filled with quests that involved... well, killing getting and using. Some drops were atrocious, some places overfarmed, some zones overfilled. Creatures like the Damned Soul one shotted me without a trace. In such, I was astonished to find I loved it. Why? Because it was Vanilla WoW.

I could do a recap paragraph, but really, just go read that again if you have to. It's EXACTLY THE SAME. Now, I understand that the story is more focused in this, yes, and it has a more Cryptic-style in medias res tutorial, sure, and the levels are different and it's free to play and... fine fine fine. It's not 'exactly' the same. But to me, the player, it feels the same. Like, to the note. Levels are gained insubordinatly slowly, compared to today's WoW, and the death penalty is not devastating yet is much harsher than I'm used to. Really, it was just fun feeling like the world was tougher (read: not more difficult, just tougher) than I'm used to.

Unfortunately, I cannot draw concept art for an already released game, so this is liberally hijacked from developers. :(
I'd heartily suggest anyone that played vanilla WoW and is still playing a modern MMO to go check it out. Or, those that want too feel what vanilla was like if they missed it. If anything, it reminds you of exactly why they made the changes they did - opening up content, speeding levels and death, adding a report spammer function - but the community is different, too, and it's worth checking out. People react differently to a harsher world, with a very different mindset than what has cropped up in the 'pandering to casuals' world of today. (You can stop reading now if you don't want a sweeping game design-esque solution.)

I think what this gets at for developers is that the new-game experience, eyes wide and unblinking, is not unachievable twice. While many people say that your first MMO, first shooter, first game will be the only one ever to pull you in with that fascination, I felt it slowly gripping me again. Not firmly, just an ever-so-slight tug to enter a new world, forge a new trail, leave a path of brilliance behind me. MMOs made today do not NEED to cater to new players to impart that first-game feel. It can be done. It just requires a successful IP, a brilliant developer, superior art and level and gameplay design, and a fanbase eager to explore a brave new world.

Friday, March 19, 2010

In which I rediscover oratory; or, The expotition of theatrical game design

After reading through my previous posts, I realized one thing - that they were simply tirades, endless rants that (I believe) contained useful and interesting information, yet presented in a dull fashion. Some bloggers can get away with this; in fact, almost everyone who has another aspect to their blog attached to it (see: webcomics, machinimas, class data-crunching, etc.) are allowed to make such posts, people will read them, and leave enlightened.

I am, however, slightly different, in that: a) webcomics that I made would be drawn with a trackpad in paint.net, b) Machinimas are... well... tricky, and while I've tinkered around a bit I've found that using free movie editors just doesn't cut it. I may try to do one using all in-game footage a la Scarlet Toy, but that also takes time. Which is something I am severely lacking at the moment. Lastly, c) there is already a wonderful, marvelous, magnificent moonkin blogger out there and it would be repetitive to post similar information.

So, since posting such posts would be silly, I will instead change the presentation of the posts, using in this the common oratorical device of explaining the macrocosm through the microcosm - explaining major problems, difficulties, etc. through another, apparently unrelated story. In any case, it will be an adventure. School is in session!

(Disclaimer - The picture is entirely irrelevant. Though, very cool.)

My sister recently directed her first play. Now, this was no simple series of one-acts; it was a full-blown musical, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, involving a huge cast and crew, and a multitude of moving pieces. From music to costuming to production to everything else, she had a huge hand in making sure each piece would line up perfectly. It was a massive amount of work making sure each piece was in line, and there is no way that she could have done it without help - so she divided it up into smaller tasks, directed by their own individual directors - one for music, one for crew, and herself for the characters and cinematography.

Parallels are abound here, and I'll let you bask in the fact that you see them - if you see them - for the time it takes you to read another paragraph. What prompted me to think about this was not the production in and of itself, which was packed with high energy and was extremely entertaining to watch, but rather the weeks up to their first performance. No more than one or two people ever saw the play in action, but when they did, they mentioned key advice and gave input over multiple views. If they had mass screenings of, say, 20% of their targeted audience beforehand, voices would become cluttered, and a number would not ever come back and see it again simply because they had seen it in pre-prediction.

Ah-ha, say ye astute readers. That sounds EXACTLY like modern MMO production! Your script-writers become writers, your crew becomes programmers, your characters become voice and action-capture actors, your costume designers become model artists, your directors become designers. Yes, this is what I'm getting at. Energy, as we see, is an extremely powerful portion of a game's success - look at the impact you see in Portal and you can understand what I'm getting at. Another key piece is division; where 30 years ago games would be made with teams of 5, now hundreds of people can work on triple-A titles, and making sure that communication lines stay open is a must.

But the key point I'm pointing out here is the evolution of Beta testing. Essentially, early MMOs took in a few beta testers after the F&F alpha phase, as a sort of meager stress test and to see a bit of reaction to the game from your target audience. This crosses over to the dramatic realm; first invite a few friends and family - and if you, say, needed to check the stability of the sound system or the capacity of the audience, you'd invite a few more in. Maybe get a few random fans in for a private screening to get some fresh ideas. But that's IT. Beginning with huge closed betas for Warhammer and AoC (10K testers there), then progressing to ridiculously large 'Open Betas' in titles like Pirates of the Burning Sea, Aion, STO, and Allods, it has really gotten out of hand. A player now sees a beta like a demo; and the testers who have a true passion and dedication fade into obscurity, outshouted by the hundreds of whining testers that are annoyed a game is not finished before it has been finished.

What do I suggest? Take a look back at our oratorical device. Pick a select few for hardcore testing. Limit the beta test for others, perhaps allowing them to run through the starting levels of the game only, at specified times to stress test, but no more than that. Jam-pack your audience full to see if they'll fit, and reward them with a promise of a better play in the future, or a cheaper play, or a play with exclusive in-play titles and minipets, but never show them the whole game, just whet their appetite for a better, sharper, more structurally sound experience.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Questes: The Sprite Darter

Well, here we are again, with me reopening up the old Questes template in one tab and a Wowhead client in another. In an unrelated note, I really, really dislike blogspot. Like, really. I could write a post about it. However, I will not, as this is a Questes, not a Tyrades. Which would be a cool column. Maybe I'll do it. But until it occurs, we shall never know whether it will be cool or not. Ah well.

Who can do this?

Only Alliance, sadly. However, the once Alliance specific reward that makes this whole chain worthwhile is not available to the Horde through a drop off of the Sprite Darters in Feralas. Almost easier for them, really, if you just put in the required amount of grinding to get the random.

Level requirement for the first quest Alliance side is 37; Horde side, the mobs are level 42-45, so the drop is technically possible for your level one bank alt if you really want to put in the time and dual-box or have a good high level friend who'll group with you and farm for you for a while.

Where does this start?

This one is pretty simple, although it actually isn't. Holy contradictory statement, Batman! But really, it begins at Kindal Moonweaver, up a little path northwest of the Grimtotem village. A little tricky to find at first, so turn on low level quest tracking.

The reason that it is tricky is that about halfway through the chain, it stops. As if the chain is over. You need to return to Kindal at this point, and you can begin working on getting your own sprite darter hatchling with 'An Orphan Looking for a Home'.

Also, before you begin it, pick up two Elixers of Fortitude. You can do it in the middle of the chain, when you're at Darnassus, but you might forget, and it doesn't hurt.

How to do this:
Horde: Get a good audiobook (I recommend Douglas Adams) or catch up on your shows on Hulu while grind, grind, grinding away.

Alliance: Follow NinjaPirateTaki's guide on the wowhead pages. Or you can look on Wowwiki, or check out the guide WarcraftPets recommends.
What do I get?

You get a totally awesome and unique pet. Not many people have it, so it is a mark of prestige as well as another pet to check off for your deer.

Also, you get some other stuff. Not really anything of note, but here goes:
Nightscale Girde: A high strength mail belt, and
Firwillow Wristbands, some cool NElf Druid RP gear, has a unique texture that would go well with the starting cloak.

Why this? Why now? Why meeee?
Basically, this was (and still is) one of the rarer, more unique pets out there - simply because there is nothing pointing you towards it. Of course, anyone with Wowhead in one hand a questhelper in the other can have it done faster than you can say 'Darnassus Hold-Em', but the rarity and coolness factor still stands (especially when the new swarm of Cataclysm WoWers heads in). Also, it could go away in cataclysm, yadda yadda yadda, all stands here. I've just realized if you're reading these out of order, my ramblings and exclusions could seem a bit weird. However, you all who this applies to are from the future, so you obviously have more pressing issues to worry about. Like zombies.

Sunday, February 28, 2010


Let me hypothetically pose a hypothetical situation to you. One day, you find yourself in a ~~parallel dimension~~! It is just like normal, an average tuesday, chatting on Facebook (like usual) and talking with all your friends remotely. You call up one person and invite them over; it's just like every other time you've done so. Everything's the same. You talk, you hear, on both ends of every conversation. However, your friend (lets call him Moist), after talking and playing some AoC for a while, has the brilliant idea of going to see the Evil League of Evil, the elite team of super-villains. You travel all the way over to their secret headquarters - signing in using the secret password - and listen in on their fabulous and devious schemes. All is as it should be.

But soon things start to go wrong. After you leave the base, you decide to go to the frozen yogurt market. All sorts of frozen yogurt vendors from across the galaxy gather there to hawk their sales. But once you arrive, the world is in dead silence. Well, not complete silence, because there are the sounds of birds chirping in the background and some distant music (and ancient times) playing alongside. But nobody speaks. Whenever you walk up to a vendor, they shout a greeting to you, then hand you a slip of paper with a conversation on it - in the best case situation, you get to give a response (on paper, of course). Not that you have a choice what the response is, or whether you get to give it or not, but a response nonetheless.

Now, more astute metaphoricists will have noted, Hey! That's just like the current state of all MMORPS! Egads! Gadzooks! Conker! And you would be right. Walking down a back alley in Stormwind has exactly the same sounds as walking through the market district - it's all the same. Bioware is, you might say, the King of getting this.... nearly right. Playing through Denerim's market district has vendors hawking their wares, reactive responses from your party members, and fully-voiced dialog. MMO's can pick this up, and SW:TOR will probably be the first of many fully voiced MMOs to come. Well, nearly fully voiced. Because there has been one piece of the situation always missing.

That would be the player. Even if you are given 5 options to speak, you are only given 5 options - whether you can predict a new outcome or not, see the trap before it's sprung, have a counter-argument the developers never thought of, or generically make a pretty funny joke, it doesn't matter. It never matters. You only have the words, phrases, sentences, given to you at your disposal. Perhaps they will give the character a voice of their own at some point (though this runs the risk of further distancing the player from the character's dialog). This is how RPGs have always been, right? This is how they have been since their inception. WRONG.

RPGs began with the pen-and-paper - the In the Labyrinths, the DragonQuests, the DNDs. In these, NPCs did not exist (at least not how we think of them currently). Every character had a human brain behind them, from a goblin to a wolf to an orc to a housecat. Each was fully reactive, and the depth of the character was based on the person behind it. With MMOs, nowadays, NPC 'intellect' can be increased to a degree of nigh-impossibility, in the gameplay of the game - but they remain woefully ignorant in terms of Speech.

How do we solve this? There are a few options, and I'll list them in terms of time:

1) Add a ventrilo-style chat, in game, in place of a text-based system for /say speech. Have it diminish in terms of distance, how speech does now. Communities will shun those who yell stupidly - if not, ignore features and the like will follow just as text-based speech has forever.

2) Add a decent STT (Speech To Text) system into these games. This is mainly heightened by option #3, however it does allow for a fair bit of interesting potential - first, it is faster than typing, and allows for Text just as fast as you would receive voice commands (great for raiding or PvP or other quick decisions). Also, it frees up hands for doing whatever - fishing, grinding for Shadowmourne, dancing - while you can 'type' in guild chat with speech. As I said, though, mainly heightened by #3.

3) Add a decent TTS (Text To Speech) system into these games. Add accents, variants, sliders and more to increase customization - this will allow both players to role-play easier and more effectively, as well as allowing dynamic NPC speech without needing thousands upon thousands of Voice Actors (as in SW:TOR). Would make voicing in games nigh-infinitely easier. Also, sadly, by far the most difficult of the bunch. Possible, but difficult.

Modern AI will handle the rest - the anger, the inflection, the character behind the words. All it takes is for these to be built, and perhaps the Bazaar won't feel like a graveyard (no matter the number of people in it) any more.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Of MICE and MMOs

I'll dive right in to this post, because I want to. The Scourge cannot be stopped!

I recently read a book by Orson Scott Card, acclaimed science fiction author, about Characters and Viewpoint. I hadn't read much about the science of writing novels before this, so even the basic concepts it talked about held my interest for a while. One of the points he makes, early on, is about the four different kinds of stories, specifically novels, that exist. They follow the acronym MICE, and I'll briefly sum each one up:

Milieu stories are those that focus on setting and the world the characters exist in beyond all else. It can house such things as poems, recipes, songs, as well as extraneous and unrelated plot points, just to convey the setting (or Milieu) of the story. Examples of this are Lord of the Rings and Avatar.

Idea stories are written to push across a single thought, element, or idea. This can be something relevant, such as the intricacies of modern evolution or gender roles in American society, or something as fantastic as posing the question 'What if a giant lizard attacked Tokyo?'. Inside this category falls all Speculative fiction, and so a great deal of science fiction can be housed here. Examples are Waterworld and the Left Hand of Darkness.

Character stories are just made to show, reveal, and explore different characters in different situations. Most modern drama television shows fall under this category, as well as a few comic books. Examples are Firefly and the Dark Knight.

Event stories simply chronicle one event, one point in time, whether a conflict or a simple day at the park. Nearly every short story has to fall in this category because, you know, they're short. Narrative poems are usually here too. Examples include Poe's The Raven, and the first 20 minute opening scene of Saving Private Ryan.

A short disclaimer:
Yes, I know every single novel has every one of these ideas. But did anyone go to see Avatar for the characters? No. How about watching the Dark Knight solely for the events? It just doesn't make sense. The novels, or movies, we view as amazing, take Lord of the Rings, are strong in three of the four categories, but one truly shines above the rest. You can't tell me that the Battle of the Shire was for anything but more interactions in the world, nor Tom Bombadil, (which is in fact why both were cut from the movies). The characters, the events, the ideas, they all back a strong world that it is housed in. Some are ambiguous - Firefly had a very strong world - but in general, both movies and novels stick to these lines.

Now, you say, what is this doing here? On a blog so previously dedicated to events in the video game world? I'll tell you. Calm down. Relax, man, you're two tents.

I would argue, or at least postulate, that games follow a similar structure. Not quite the same, as they are two (very) different storytelling genres, but they share similar structures. While this could, with a little extrapolation, cover all games, I will focus on my MMO genre rating system that I call SPAM.

Sandbox/Social games take one category. They are not built by developers, but the players that play it. They may have a plot, or a world, that forms around it - even WoW has a massive following of machinima and comics - but true games in this category have all the following categories made up of the people, by the people, and for the people. EVE, Second Life, and LOVE all are versions of this.

Plot games follow a (usually linear, but not necessarily) plot that goes from point a to point b. They have a defined starting and ending, and whether DLC or expansions increase this, its is still a game driven by a single goal. (Every game made based on a movie, ever, in the history of ever, has been this type of game. Some of the blandest, most boring, and lamest games have fallen here too.) For MMOs, plots have been harder to come by - though we see major signs of plot- centric MMOs in Wrath of the Lich King, with Arthas's storyline, and (of course) in SW:TOR.

Amusement games are just made for gameplay. Combat, racing, puzzles, riddles, exploration, minigames, boss fights, sports, whatever you fancy - the developers had an idea for a fun game on the forefront of their minds when they built it. You, naysayers, may say that everything falls in this category. All games have to be amusing, or else they wouldn't sell! But I am using amusement in a "shallower", or more "accessible" sense. Free Realms and the majority of Kids' games fall right here. There are others here too, and games that make excessive use of combat can be tossed into this category. I know a number of people name Aion, but I'm reluctant to take a stance seeing as I've never actually played the thing.

Lastly, Milieau games are all about the world you exist in. In fact, they are very similar to Milieau stories, in that they push worlds in front of them. However, this also encapsulates the Character piece of the novel - because either you are a character, or the character is part of the reactive NPC world. I can't think of an MMO that doesn't, or shouldn't, fall into this genre. World of Warcraft (esp. Vanilla) is most definitely in this breed, with its voluminous lore and all sorts of unnecessary background. Another example would be Star Trek Online, and indeed most franchise settings (because people who pay to play one of these games will leave disappointed if they don't feel entrenched in the world). Avatar: The Game should have been in this category. It wasn't.

And, to end, a brief hypothetical summary. I feel like this makes sense. If not to you, or any developers, then to me. Good MMOs, like good Novels, highlight one of these aspects beyond all else, and use the other aspects to foil that piece. I'm not saying that anything should be done to lessen how well each is executed, just that a game needs to bring the other genre's up to par. If you want to immerse your players in a world, that's fine! Just don't tell them that it's also all about a single plot. Want it to be a very community game? Neat! Just don't waver between a world you build and a world your players build. SW:TOR chose story. LOVE chose gameplay. EVE chose sandbox. It's those other games, the EQ2's and the AoC's and the STOs and oh so many more, that don't (to me) have one outspoken genre. By no means diminish what you have - all pieces, from community to world, are necessary for a successful MMO. But without an point of contrast, the whole masterpiece fades.